Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Wont God Heal my Legs?


I put up a blog spot about Lourdes Miracles way over a year ago. About a year ago I put up one on "why wont God heal Stupidity?" Answering the amputee thing. I still get comments on both of those posts. The former has been up closer to two or three years. The whole blog has only been going since summer of 2005! These comments almost always say the same thing: "why aren't there aren't there any prosthetic devices at Lourdes. One guy said "why aren't there any toupees at Lourdes." I guess he's in the no healing is too frivolous faction. Well, maybe God expects you to buy minoxidil! Recently I came across a post on Yuku on the board of an atheist who sometimes used to post on my boards, she says saying "Old Metacrock is always asking for money for his legs, but why wont God heal them?" O wow! (slaps forehead) why didn't I think of that?!!

Of course I've thought of that! I've pondered it many times. Why would anyone think I would have an answer? The problem with asking such a question is it reminds me of the book of Job. We, like Job's friends, expect to come up with a nice little foumulamatic answer that makes sense to us. The message of Job is that we can't know God's ultimate reasons for doing things. The wager with satan in the book is nothing more than a plot device.It's a place holder because for the author to give the reason reason God would have to reveal to him what he doesn't ant us to know, and that's the whole point of the message anyway. God has this wager with satan about how Job will stay loyal. He couldn't possibly know that. His friends could not know it, rather they assume he sinned or something like that.I do not believe that God punishes people for sin by not healing them. There are verses that imply this, but that's different. That applies to some gross sin like sleeping with your step mother, and it applies to the elder of the church praying for you. I don't believe that everyone who is sick has sinned. People get sick, it's part of living in a real world. To ask why God wont heal my legs in particular is malicious and implies that there is something particular problem with me. Of course what she is saying is either I should be healed for stop talking about God because there isn't' one and if there was I would be healed.

That's the whole point of the whole point of the amputee thing. Atheists trying to find some king's x, a fail safe they can trot out and always silence any Christian who tries o argue for the existence of God, because clearly there can't be a God because if there was there would be no sick people. If God worked miracles, in the atheist play book that is equal to "if there was a God" then God would make everything perfect and no one would have any problems. The amputee sight treats it as though God is a genie who has to give us anything we want on demand. Make me a chocolate soda God! No chocolate soda, therefore, no God! He does this by insisting that the verses about moving mountains an "whatsoever you ask in my name believing" as literally as possible.For that Guy God is just a big chocolate milk dispenser. Another assumption a lot of atheists make is that God's motive for healing is to deal with all the pain as an alternative to medicine. That's why they think it's such a powerful argument, because obviously God is not coping well with pain in the world. they expect this to be such a sure fire answer there can't be an answer to it so they don't' even bother to read my answers. That' why they send the same stupid comments over and over even though I answered them in the article.

I answered these arguments, I answered them well and decisively in my article on "why wont God heal Stupidity." I can only assume that a lot of atheists didn't read it. They just respond to the title rather than actually reading the answer. Essentially I have three basic answers to the whole healing question. I am going to give these answers and I expect people to read this and take them as answers. They can argue with them, but stop repeating the same simplistic stupid formula again and again as no answer has been given.

I. God does heal people, but he doesn't always heal them because healing requries certain guide lines; you have to be "in the zone."

II. The theory of Soteriolgoical drama explains it.

III. God created an evolutionary universe which requires evolutionary process to unfold and thus, disease, disaster and evil choices are required.

(I) what do I mean by "in the zone?" There are peramiters that have to be met for healing to take place. God's purpose in healing is not to eliminate all pain. The reason for that is seen in II and III. But when God does heal, and he does, it is for a specific reason. That means it has to fit the plan, timing has to be right, and faith has to be present. There are probably more variables that have to be right, but this is a basic run down. This is why you can't just say "OK God, restore my hair and give me a chocolate shake," and expect it to be done. What are the perameters determined by? Obviously, faith, timing, and God's will (part of the plan) must be paramount. Just because we don't know the specific plan doesn't mean there isn't one.

I don't necessarily agree with this website in every aspect, but here's a site called

"Divine Healing"

with an interesting list of peramiters, from the Bible.

This is what the Bible says you have to do if you are sick in Ecclesiastics 38 and James 5 (Ecclesiasticus or Sirach is a practical book, like Proverbs, but larger, 51 chapters, and it is usually not in the Protestant Bibles

1- Ecclesiasticus or Sirach 38:9-15:
9- My son, in thy sickness do not get impatient, but pray to the Lord, and he shall heal thee.
10- Turn away from sin and order thy hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all offence.
11- Give a sweet sacrifice, and a memorial of fine flour, and make a fat offering, and then give place to the physician.
12- For the Lord created him: and let him not depart from thee, for his works are necessary.
13- For there is a time when thou must fall into their hands:
14- And they shall beseech the Lord, that he would prosper what they give for ease and remedy, for their conversation.
15- He that sinneth in the sight of his Maker, shall fall into the hands of the physician.

2- James 5:14-16:
14- Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
15- And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
16- Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

(II) soteriological drama in a nutshell (but to really understand what I'm saying please read the link--come on don't lazy atheists, read the link). God created the world for one overall purpose: to make free moral agents who willingly choose the good. to willingly choose the good we have to internalize the values of the good. But we can't internalize values which we are forced to hold. If we knew for an absolute fact that God existed we would all pretend to care and resent God for not giving us a choice. Thus the world is constructed such that it's an evolutionary process and a real world with problems and dangers and we have to seek the truth by thinking and seeking God. If every time someone skinned his knee or started to lose his hair, or caught a cold God healed him miraculously it would be obvious God existed; no need to search for what is obvious.

(III) God is the foundation of all life and thus, the foundation of the evolutionary principle. We have a whole universe out there and it's not set up just for man alone. Its' an evolutionary matrix. It's not designed in the sense that every aspect is micromanaged. The evolutionary principle s foundational to life itself, and thus God allows the universe to evolve in a natural process because that is the essence of life. Thus its a real world, with weather systems that can spawn tornadoes and biology that can evolve diseases. Life is a totality, physical, mental (spiritual). That involves a value system. This is the difference in understanding God as an impersonal force set within a larger evolutionary system, vs seeing God as the foundation of life and motive force which encompasses the whole system and moves beyond it. I will say more about this next time.

What all of this comes to is, God looks at life differently than we do. It doesn't mean he doesn't care, but he is not a drinks dispenser. God looks at things in ways we cannot comprehend. He made a universe that involves pain and just because his intervention into the process is selective it doesn't' mean it's non existent. We should not expect God to micromanage every leaf. God is on the scale of the laws of psychics, in fact the laws of physics are just an idea in God's mind, as is reality itself. The world opp orates largely through autonomous principles in which God interacts at levels we can't comprehend. What all of this means is we have to stop treating God like a big man and start thinking about our place in the universe in a more complex fashion.

the thing about the atheist failsafe, the amputee argument, is that it's really circular reasoning. It's also an admission of the power of the anthropic argument. Circular because it's premise assumes the answers to God arguments already in place then passes itself off as the answer to God arguments. If we know that God exists anyway then what does it matter if he doesn't always heal? That just means we have to ask why? It does not argue for no God. I know God exists for reasons other than healing, so if God doesn't' heal that doesn't mean there's no God. But atheists want to act like it does because they assume the God's arguments don't work but when push comes to shove this is the sort of they assume answers God arguments to begin with. Notice also that it assumes that we can reason form the state of the world to the non existence of God. But the basis upon which they reject arguments such as design and cosmological are that we can't reason form the state the world to the existence of God.

I that God can work miracles, and there's a lot of good evidence to that effect. I myself have seen miracles. I once made a lit I think it had 18. I will just go over some of the major ones:

(1) the basic experince that got my attention and led to my born again experience.

My brother was writhing around on the floor in some sort of strange break down, screaming. I couldn't get him to stop. I was desperate and didn't know what to do so i said, praying to Jesus "If you are really there please make him stop," and he stopped in about thirty seconds.

I would like to count the born agaian experince and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I wouldn't call them miracles per se, but they were dramatic enough to reinforce my belief in that early stage.

(2) Paying rent in New Mexico

When I lived in New Mexico I wasn't doing so hot financially. I prayed for God's help as I could not make rent. I owed back rent already. I had not told anyone of these problems. Went to church and sat down, the woman in front of me turned around and haded me a check saying "God told me to give you this" and it was to the exact penny. It was exactly to the penny.

(3) My father's big heart attack

While he was in the hospital suffering from a heart attack that day he had a massive one and died. He was actually clinically dead for a period of maybe eleven minutes. They gave him a massive shock that brought him back. The doctor said "I have never used the word miracle in my practice before. But I am using it now, this was definitely a miracle." One of the most miraculous things about it was the way his heart came back strong and rhythmical after. For an 89 year old man to bound back so strong was amazing. But the real miracle was this: I was home at this tmie, it was around twelve midnight, Christmas eve. I watch the Pope's midnight mass, and prayed with him for my father's healing. Then I went to sleep and had a dream, in the dream my father came to me looking strong and in a new suit, he told me everything would be alright. that was the same time he was clinically dead and they brought him back.

(4) EMS guys and another Heart attack

my father had another heart attack, or something. It seemed he couldn't breath well and was having chest pains. The EMS guys came in, a scene we came to know well in those parental convolescent years.They hooked him up we went over, my mother, brother and I and prayed for him laying hands on him. Suddenly the EMS guy goes "wow, what's up!?" they all looked stunned and said "this is not right." The instrument readings all changed as we prayed. One of the EMS guys said "it's like we can see the heart attack reversing." They were all freaked out, as they left one told my brother, "this just shouldn't happen."

I have a whole life time of these kinds of experiences. I know other people who live this way every day. They have long lists of such stories or even more fantastic. I know that God is real and I know he heals. He doesn't heal every time, maybe not that often but he does heal. Maybe he doesn't heal amputees. Maybe there's an imposed limit for the rasosn above stated. Or maybe he does heal them. I don't know, but I do know is not a reason not to believe and it's not a big atheist failsafe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A God by Any Other Name

[Editor's note: part 1 of Joe Hinman's critique can be found here. Joe's original critique of an article by Dr. Hector Avalos on the same topic, along with some subsequent commentary discussion, can be found here.]

Dr. Avalos charges that errors have been intentionally made in the standard translations of the Bible to cover up theological difficulties stemming from the Bible's (alleged) irrelevance. In this section I will be exploring some of these charges, and also some of the problems Avalos charges to the sub disciplines. Before going into this, however, I feel it necessary to discuss my views of Biblical revelation. This is because Avalos's criticisms really don't stack up against most theologies except the verbal plenary version--and only a strict interpretation of that!

Biblical Revelation

This issue really cuts to the heart of the relevance issue, because most of Avalos's understanding of "relevance" has to do with an understanding of verbal plenary inspiration, or the view that the Bible is totally inerrant in every word. "Inerrancy" is really important to atheists because the more literal they can force the demand for all interpretations to be, the easier it is to find problems with it. Now, my views on this subject are not like those of the CADRE at large. I'm the group token liberal so my views are much more liberal than those of the group. I do not represent the standard view of the CADRE on this issue.

The standard view of many Evangelicals is something like this: Scripture is "God breathed" meaning God communicated word for word to the authors and they put it into their own words, but basically very close or exactly what God gave them to say. Some Evangelicals of this sort might tolerate a minor scribal error such as inaccurate numbers being copied, but basically word for word God delivered to us the Bible he wanted us to have. My problem with that, is that it is based upon a model of what I call "memo from the boss." It basically understands God as "the big man upstairs" who is going to send a memo to the factory workers: it's up on the bulletin board just the way the he dictated it. That's the crass version. There are Evangelicals with more sophisticated views then this (see the link above). But basically this is the model being discussed by Avalos.

What I find that this model doesn't address, is a much more human point of view in much of the Bible. This is at the heart of the relevance issue because it is the difference between Avalos using outmoded purity laws as the basis of his attack, vs. a theologian (even among Evangelicals) understanding general principles that can be extrapolated from the outmoded areas and translated into modern context. In other words Avalos can demand that every word be demonstrated as relevant: we must show that it matters in modern society not to cook a goat in its mother's milk. But my view would say: that sort of thing is outmoded, but it is not the main thrust of the Bible. Similarly, one of these more sophisticated Evangelicals (such as any member of the CADRE) would say those kinds of laws were obsolete with the coming Christ, and they served some purpose for desert nomads but we need not worry about them.

I see the Bible as a collection of works that are all indicative of and influenced by divine-human encounter. It is a diverse collection, and the inspirational factor varies from work to work. Some texts are borrowed from pagan mythology and reworked to turn that mythology on its head. This is how I see the Genesis creation story. Mythology is not a lie; it's a genre. It uses psychological archetypes to speak to the psyche. So mythology is a form of truth, but it's a form of truth that does not require literal history. I would draw an analogy to the writings of Tolkien, which make use of Christian and universal themes, but is not a flat out allegory. Other writings are directly inspired, such as those where the prophet says "this is what the Lord says." Or "The word of the Lord came to him saying." They are reflective of the human side of the encounter, told from the human point of view, but there are instances where God did speak directly. As the book of Hebrews tells us, he spoke most directly through Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God to humanity. The Bible is the record of human encounter with that revelation, and its unfolding in the history of a certain people. I see the Hebrew scripture as serving the primary purpose of setting up a framework in which the mission of "Messiah" is meaningful. That means the little purity laws and all the oddities and what I call "fiddly bits," are unimportant. God commanded the Israelites to wipe out certain people?--I think some of those are errant readings, bad redaction.
Others are idealized history told from a certain point of view, but for me they are not important and they are not the point.

I really don't have time to explain my views in full here. I will try to say more about it in the comments; please read my views of Biblical revelation. For an in depth look at a view that has influenced me the most, see a book by Cardinal Avery Dulles which is: Models of Revelation.

a few of Avalos's examples:

Starting out we need to observe that Avalos is charging intentional bad translations. He does talk about problems of Dynamic/functional Equivalence (aka "DE"). "The basic principle... is to use readings that would make sense in the reader's culture rather than exact word equivalents.” (p 41) Now I do not claim to be a big deal Greek Scholar. I have not studied Hebrew. I have read the entire New Testament in Greek, but when I say "I read it" I mean I sloughed through it in a living nightmare that lasted three years. Every morning at I-hop with my coffee and oat meal I would meet with a friend who is a linguistic whiz (now studies Coptic at Tübingen) and tortured this patent soul with my attempts at conjugation. But I’ve also discussed dynamic equivalence with a Wycliff translator. From my experience and point of view, I think it is not problematic. I find most of the major English translations of the New Testament to be pretty good; none of them suffer from any major errors. There are some infamous exceptions, such as the (incidentally non-orthodox) Watchtower reading of John 1:1, which was denounced by my Greek professor. (I took classical Greek at a secular University from a Yalie who couldn't give a rat's hind quarters about Christian doctrines.) The translations on the passages (NT) about women keeping silent and other things, are notoriously biased. I do not rely primarily upon standard reference books printed for Biblical helps, in my study. I mean works like Strong's, or Art, Bower, and Gingrich. I use them as secondary material, but primarily I rely upon Liddell and Scott. That's how I got my hernia. L&S is classical Greek done by Classicists and has no doctrinal bias. The unabridged version requires a fork lift.

But Avalos spins this issue to make it seem as though "DE" is an attempt to cover something up. He calls it "the primary modern example of the effort to suppress the actual meaning..." (p 40) Of course the rationale for it is the need to bring ancient world concepts into the modern world. One would think that would be the job of a good translator. The problem is it is an ancient book, and it is not the only source of the Christian tradition. It's the bedrock, in terms of textual sources it is the foundation, but it's not the whole house. Yet Avalos is conducting what the postmodernists call "a hermeneutics of suspicion." You start from the standpoint of assuming your opponent is bad until SHE/ he proves HERSELF/himself worthy. This is what Al Sharpton does in starting from the assumption, all whites are racist, you have to prove to me you are not racist (by backing me politically). This is identity politics. Avalos is going to suspect the motives of Christians until they are proven benign. The only difference is, Sharpton might actually allow one to prove one is not a racist. I don't think any evidence will ever count for Avalos against his thesis.

But this is actually a double bind. The Wycliff Translator with whom I discussed this question (this discussion took place years ago in my old Greek study days), noted that standing behind the urge to use DE as a tool is Noam Chomsky and modern linguistic realizations of the importance of generative grammar and the need to represent whole chunks of thought rather than each individual word. One wonders: if they did not use this technique wouldn't Avalos be castigating them for not being modern enough in their translations?!

Specific issues: Hebrew Polytheism; Most High vs "the LORD"

One of the most radical and potentially faith destroying issues (for some people) that he brings forth is the amazing, earth shattering evidence of Polytheism in the origins of the Hebrew culture.

According to Avalos the Jews began by worshiping many gods, and J (Y) emerged as the major one (some think in relation to the political triumph of some faction). In reality this view has been around a long time. The information he gives is not amazing or secret, but let's look at how Avalos uses that information: the terms translated "Most High," and "The LORD" are not only two different proper names in the original, but (says Avalos) represent two different Gods. (p 43) Most High = "Elyon." The LORD is translated in place of J.

But here Avalos does something of a bait and switch. He turns to the discovery of Ugaritic texts which show that Elyon is mentioned among different Ugaritic gods as a separate entity. "Some of the Israelites deities probably derived from Ugaritic" (Ugaritic is related to Hebrew). So the assumption of Hebrew Polytheism is actually made prior to this data. But, no matter. "In other West Semtic cultures," Avalos informs us, "Elyon is more clearly a separate deity." (ibid.) So, not actually having any such examples from Hebrew culture, he has to turn to examples of other cultures to prove his point, merely extrapolating and assuming that the Hebrews also used those names in this way. El/elyon can't be a descriptive loan word adopted as a name/title to speak of J, even though we see this same term used in descriptive ways in the OT such as speaking of angels and judges--but because of the hermeneutics of suspicion we must assume otherwise. Of course El was a separate deity from other Urgaritic gods. This does not prove that El was separate from J for the Hebrews.

He also gives a second example, the "sons of God." (p 44) This is the translation of the NAB. Avalos writes,
"The Dead Sea Scrolls...still preserve the probably older reading of the 'sons of Elohim. The sons of El would be the gods fathered by the god named 'El.' The fact that ancient editors recognized the polytheistic nature of this expression ('sons of El') probably led the editors of the standard text (Masoretic) of the Hebrew Bible to change 'gods' to 'sons of Israel.'" (Ibid.)

Several things to say about this: First, notice there is no evidence given here as to why the DSS editors see this as indicative of other gods. This is not proven, because he doesn't even footnote another source. He is asserting it. But that is really no big deal because there is no evidence at all anywhere that the Hebrews actually worshiped more than one god, and since they were using the term "EL" as a borrow there is no reason to assume they didn't realize it referred originally to other gods. That doesn't mean they worshiped other gods. Secondly, this translation is in other versions rendered "sons of God." Thus it doesn't make sense to think the translators willfully tried to deceive when half a dozen major translations already spilled the beans. More likely it really is just what the translators thought. Thirdly, this is hardly big top secret evidence that is kept from the public. I have read scholarly articles which document the DSS use of that phrase and even show the reading comes from a Ugaritic passage. I could give him documentation on that point which his book is sorely lacking! I first came upon this problem of El and J in a book called The Pictorial Bible Dictionary, published by Wheaton college in 1965. It was a nice coffee table sort of book that one might buy to back up Bible study or just look nice on the table. It was clearly intended for laymen, yet drew upon scholarship of the day. I remember quite clearly it made no bones about the fact that El was the name of a Ugaritic god and was borrowed by the Hebrews to use of their God. If I am not mistaken I belief the Bible Almanac by Packer, Tenny and White (circa 1981) also deal with this information.

Fourthly, even if it could be demonstrated to me that Hebrew monotheism evolved out of a prior Hebrew polytheism, and that J. was just one of many Gods in their pantheon who became the major god, this would not affect or damage my faith one iota. First, because we know that Abraham came out of a polytheistic culture. We know that the Hebrews, if they were in bondage in Egypt, probably were exposed to polytheism. We know Israel and Judah throughout their time as nations were largely polytheist. Every other day Israel fell away from God and worshiped other gods. It doesn't mean God was pleased, it doesn't mean the prophets condoned it, but they were polytheistic to a large degree at the "folk religion" level. It's only natural that they would borrow words from surrounding peoples. It may be disputed that they were ever in Egypt, there is a good chance that they just came up out of Canaanite culture. But they are so affected by the idea of slavery in Egypt, preserving it in their major ceremony for thousands of years, it seems obvious they were. But who are "they?" Israel took people not of their own blood when they left Egypt (according to the Exodus literature) and they picked up the Midionites along the way. They also absorbed Canaanites once they took over the land. So if a segment of Israel were descendents of Abraham and came through Egypt, they also had copious infusions of other bloods and other cultures and with that they would have much exposure to other Gods.

Moreover, it just doesn't matter if they were polytheistic. Logic tells us, courtesy of Occam, that one God is enough ("do not multiply entities beyond necessity"). We experience the divine at the "mystical" level, meaning beyond word, thought or image. To make sense of it we translate that into cultural constructs. This is the way it must be to even speak of these experiences. This means that we have one reality behind all religions; the rest is just a filtering process. This is basically what Paul is telling us (Rom 2:6-14; Acts 17-12-29). But the difference is Jesus was a real guy, not a cultural construct. Of course what we think about him is laden with many constructs, as needs must be. Jesus himself was not a metaphor and not a construct but a real guy. This is the crucial focal point of the Bible; it’s what makes it true and what makes it relevant. Everything else is just "fiddly bits." Many of the fiddly bits are not relevant to modern life. I grant him that. But it is not these aspects that make up a life of faith for the modern Christian.

Textual Criticism

Avalos attacks all the sub disciplines of Biblical studies, such as Biblical archeology. But I will only focus on Textual Criticism. Textual Criticism is central to the project of inerrancy, even though many Evangelicals mistrust it, because it’s the only way to recover the original reading. Evangelicals will often assert that the autographs (the original texts written by the author) were inerrant but some error has crept in of a minor sort due to scribal error. The problem is, if we don't have the original what good does it do to know that?

Avalos, however, argues that restoring the original is a hopeless task. He indicts the Masorectic text. This is the prototype for all modern texts of the Hebrew Scriptures; it was compiled between the fourth and eleventh centuries by Rabbis. The Masoretic text has many problems when compared to older texts found at Qumran (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls). (p 73)

In this section Avalos uses a lot of well-known evidence as though it were new and dramatic. He establishes the superiority of the Hebrew parent texts of the LXX over that of the Masoretic. This is common knowledge. The scholarly world as a whole has to embrace the idea that the Hebrews had multiple texts all of which floated around at the same time and it didn't bother them because they were not hung up on every single word being literally inspired. I have been arguing this for years. I myself have argued for the superiority of the LXX Hebrew parent texts for years.

James Sanders tells us:

"There are remarkable differences between the LXX and MT of 1 and 2 Sam., Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Proverbs and Ezekiel 40-48, and on a lesser level numerous very important differences in lesser books such as Isaiah and Job. Before the discovery of the Scrolls [Dead Sea] it was difficult to know whether most of these should be seen as translational, or as reflecting the inner history of the Septuagint's text, or all three. [sic?] Now it is abundantly clear that the second period of text transmission [which is BC], actually that of the earliest texts we have, was one of limited textual pluralism. Side by side in the Qumran library lay scrolls of Jeremiah in Hebrew dating to the pre-Christian Hellenistic period reflecting both the textual tradition known in the MT and the one in the LXX without any indication of preference. So also for 1 and 2 Sam." (James A. Sanders, Inter-Testamental and Biblical Studies at Clairmont, Cannon and Community, a Guide to Canonical Criticism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, 15-16.)

Avalos winds up arguing for the impossibility of arriving at a final text. I wont go into the "ins" and "outs" of that argument. That would be too time consuming. A lot of what goes into Avalos arguments on textual criticism are really just stories about people's careers in connection with it, and the political games that professionals play in "the paper chase." They don't call it a "chase" for nothing. Really I don't see argument he makes that explodes the science of textual criticism, that aren't already made by textual critics. All one need do is study carefully the current struggle between the valiant little anti-Q faction, led by people like Mark Goodacre and the late Bill Farmer, vs. the rest of the scholarly world, to see those assumptions questioned all the time.

Avalos tells stories such as that of John Allegro (aka "the mushroom man"). Allegro was the only non-believer on the original Dead Sea Scroll committee. He wrote a wonderful little book called The Dead Sea Scrolls (circa around 1964). It had a lot of material that uses DSS material to dislodge conventions about Jesus and the nature of early Christian belief. When I was an atheist I found that little book and thought it was a gold mine of disproving the Bible. Then I went back to it in internet debate with Tovia Singer's Anti-missionaries, and found it to be a gold mine of Christian apologetics!

Avalos decries how the publication of subsequent works by Allegro about the early church as a secret mushroom cult (hallucinogenics) destroyed his career. But Avalos never comes to terms with the fact that it was not textual criticism or the injustice of the propaganda machine that ruined it for Allego--it was a stupid thesis. The things Allegro said about the early church that were DSS based didn't hurt his career. He really didn't say anything that damaging. But the thesis that the church was a mushroom cult was a wacky idea.

Be that as it may, it has nothing to do with textual criticism. But that's the kind of thing Avalos peppers throughout the book: a pervasive spin to conduct a hermeneutics of suspicion always casting a pall over the motives of believing scholarship.

But the issue is only important if we have to have every single word intact. I don't believe we need to reconstruct an original. It would be impossible to verify it anyway! One reason we don't find any textual fragments of Q, for example, is because people stopped copying it when it was incorporated into Matthew. The original copies just rotted away and thus Q no longer exits. The original autographs have probably rotted away, even from Revelation and later NT works. Thus we can never verify the original. But we should not have to. It doesn't matter. Salvation is not so fragile that unless we get every single word right we will go to hell. We the have the basic gist of Jesus' teachings, they are verified by the manuscripts, by the witnesses, by extra Gospel writers such as Paul**, and by the teachings of the so called "fathers."

Textual criticism is a valid science. It is not prefect, but anyone who thinks that means it can't be a science has never studied social sciences. I do consider sociology to be a science; it was my major as an undergraduate. If you can accept sociology as science, there is no reason not to accept textual criticism. What we have to do is to narrow the focus of what we expect to achieve with textual criticism. We don't need to recover the original text, and that doesn't need to be a goal.

Overall we have a tradition, a community. The community preserved the basic gist of the teachings. The need to fill in the fiddly bits is unimportant. That is what Luther called "Minutia." The Christian tradition is interactive, it has served as the basis of western culture, even modern thought. No issue in modern life is really devoid of some kind of Biblical influence, save highly technical things such as scientific research. But even in terms of modern science, the ethical ramifications are replete with Biblical issues: free will vs. determinism is just an updated version of free will vs. predestination. All struggles for political justice are foreshadowed in the exodus. All one needs do to, under the possibility of how a Biblical understanding interplays with modern intellectual life, is to read Bonhoeffer's Letter's And Papers From prison. He discusses the prophet Isaiah and philosophers Nietzsche and Hegel in the same breath with no trace of any kind of incongruity.

The living Christian tradition is informed by both its foundation in Biblical revelation and the precedence of interpretation by councils, popes, saints, theologians, philosophers, mystics and all manner of faithful from every walk of life. It is only if we have to see it as the tablets in stone that we have to reconstruct the originals. I don't think the Bible was ever meant to be the tablets God carved for Moses on the mountain. To understand the tradition we need to have the base, the foundation. Jesus is the foundation, and the Bible is the best framework in which to understand Jesus.

Avalos is isolating one aspect of the vast tradition, attaching a spin that would make suspect any motive, casting a pall over the works of believing scholars, and then declaring the whole thing irrelevant. In so doing he is supporting the trend which has ripped the heart out of western culture and seeks to destroy the inner life of modern humanity and create in itself place Marcue's one-dimensional man.

**Helmutt Koester argues that Paul must have had one of the original saying sources available to him; he alludes to many of Jesus' teachings and events in the Gospels. Koester concludes that Paul either knew a narratival Gospel or tried to write one himself. See link above.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

If The Shoes of the Fisherman Fit....

Oskar Werner (1922-1984)

Sunday Night I could not sleep. I decided to go into the tv room after tossing and turning. My brother was just going to bed, it was the wee small hours. There, just coming on, "In the Shoes of the Fisherman" a film which had been critically acclaimed in its day(1968). I couldn't stop watching. My parents took my brother and I to see it when it was just out, and it was consider a very important movie with some of the great actors of the time.Anthony Quinnplayed Kiril Lakota who becomes Kiril I, the first non Italian Pope in 400 years. I recall our teacher in fifth grade talking about it in school. It made a big impact because it dealt with the premier fear of the time, the threat of nuclear war.

Oskar Werner played David Telemond, a young radical priest patterned after Tielhard de Chardin.Werner won an Oscar for the part, he always reminded me of a young William Buckley, William Buckley Jr. jr. In fact Buckley was pretty young back then so he was more like his kid brother than his son. In supporting roles were Lawrence Oliver, one of the greatest actors of all time, and the great Italian Film director and sometime actor Victorio De Sica, who directed "The Bicycle Thief" and "Miracle in Milan." It was a fine film, perhaps a great one, and totally forgotten. Greatness is always forgotten. The film strangely foreshadowed real life as the first non Italian pope in 400 years was chosen from a communist country. He had been a political prisoner for twenty years. Chosen because he was a Russian, would be willing to stand up to them, and thus acceptable to the West, but had experience dealing with the Soviets and understood their thinking. At the time he is chosen a crisis is percipient between The Soviet Union and China. In real life at the time these two communist comrade states were having boarder disputes, shots were fired people were killed. In the film, China is in a deep famine and three provinces are starving. The Soviets are saying they will be at war in a two months. They appeal to the pope to act as go between with the West and try to procure food to stave off the famine. China has a huge list of demands for both the USSR and the West. They are not willing to take aid because they don't want to come under the thumb of Western imperialism again, and they suspect that the West will make heavy demands. The Pope steps in and agrees to empty the Vatican coffers to buy the grain for China. This will leave the Vatican broke. The Church hierarchy opposes it but the new pope stands his ground. He announces the move at his coronation in St. Peter's Square, which is filled with a half million people. He says something like "we will do as Christ would do and empty our wealth to feed the starving people." The Crowd goes wild cheering and gives him a great ovation. The Film ends as a slight smile comes across Quinn's face while the people of the world calibrate, the Church is finally doing what it should have done in the middle ages.

The subplot that develops with Telemond, the Oskar Werner character, involves a hearing to determine the soundness of his teaching, and eventually he is silenced.That means he can't publish his works. He could quite and publish them without the blessing of the church but if he wants the blessing of the Church he can't have it. The hearing is brought on by the new Pope who wants Telemond as a private top adviser. He knows the young man is one of the most brilliant theologians of the Church and wants to bring him into the inner circle. But he has a reputation as a radical and his views are suspect, the Pope wants him cleared as soon as possible. But the young priest can't do enough to screw up his own cause. Every time he clears up a seeming unorthodoxy clarifying his position, he then makes more confusing statements that sound even more radical. At one point Leo McKern(Rumpole of the Baily). Cardinal Leone, asks "do you believe that Christ is the son of God?" "certainly I do" he says, "Christ is the center like the hub of a wheel where the spokes meet, he is a microcosm of the whole universe." They all look puzzled and ask "do you believe that Christ is the savior." "certainly I do, but if I did not, I would still believe in the world.. I have a vision of the world that I can't give up. If I did not believe in God I would believe in the world." He goes on to say something to the effect that "Christ is the world." Needless to say they silence him. It's amazing to see Hollywood try to sound like radical theology without doing violence to the ideas of de Chardin.Telemond makes it easy on them and dies of a brain tumor shortly after that. Tielhard de Chardin also died soon after he was silenced and never had the chance to prove himself.

I love this film because it's the very heart and soul of the 60s, it shows the period when theology was the most exciting and really meant something in the world. There will never be a movie like this again. It was a product of a kind of Hollywood that doesn't' exist anymore.It was made at the very tail end of the old Hollywood withthe star machine sysetm, the Hollywood built by Meyer and MGM, just before the "new breed" of films such "Easy Rider" began to emerge. This was the same year "Bonnie and Clyde" came out, that marks the beginning of the new film making. This was A Hollywood that felt duty bound to be somewhat reverential of the Catholic church. It was a Hollywood that made films of great pageantry enacted the world stage. A Hollywood that made socially important pictures about big ideas. It addressed the spirit of the times, fear of nuclear war, the sense that we lived in a very troubled era, and great crises were unfolding every day. I think the world is now so jaded, and so used to that feeling that it doesn't phase us. it's like going to the moon. the first time we did it was amazing and epoch making, the second time it was not so exciting after that the whole idea was rather ho hum. We still live in dangerous times, and great crises are always unfolding, but somehow we've gotten used to it. The Church is still important but it doesn't seem so. We have been brainwashed into thinking of the world as so totally secularized we don't think of the Pope as a major actor on the world stage.

Another amazing thing about this movie is that at this time liberal theology was known to the public. Most people probably did not know any thing that Tielhard de Chardin said, but they knew there were radical liberal theologians who said things like "God is dead" and for so forth. Teilhard was not a God is dead movement theologian but that was the general sense of "crazy radical priests." Liberal theology was known to the public and the basis of the religious establishment was not the moral majority. The fundamentalists changed all of that and their message came to so totally dominate that most people have no ideology that there is liberal theology. The Church doesn't seem to be a major player anymore either.

It's a fine film, I highly recommend it. Two thumbs up.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Bible Causes oppression, Except When it Inspired Good Stuff, but that Doesn't Count.

I wrote a critique of Hector Avalos's book The End of Biblical Studies, for the CADRE Blog.

It's quite amusing the little game the folks over at Debunking Christianity have going. Anything that counts against their view really counts for it. No evidence can ever count against it because when people take the Bible as a source for social justice, that proves the Bible causes oppression even more so because they aren't sincere they are only using it because it's influential. But when they use it for oppression that means it's really producing bad views of oppressive nature. What proves this? Well all the examples that are used by me to show that the Bbile spurs social justice! The fact that they are using it for social justice proves that they are really using it because it oppressive.

here is my exchange with Loftus from the comment section:

Joe, are YOU or what you wrote here relevant?


where is Hector? I want Hector!

can't he defend his own stuff?

You said, Relevance is where you find it, and if we find the Bible to be relevant then it is so.

I too find the Bible to be irrelevant to the needs of modern people.

I'm sure that your little 3% of the world population is terribly so much more relevant than our 90% (those believe in some kind of God). You can't claim that the world view of two billion people is not relevant! By every sane measure the Bible is relevant and you make it irrelevant by voice your personal feelings about it.

Now of course this hinges on the truth, i.e. what we think about the Bible, and that's a matter for debate.

The cases you cite show nothing. Within every society, especially a free society, reform movements use whatever is culturally acceptable to make their arguments.

More of the same spin doctor double bind. Anything that coutns against my view is automatically wrong, nothing can ever count against my view. If people disagree they are the enemy if they don't know that counts for me.

This is nothing more than heads I win tails you lose. You can't discount and negate the motivational beliefs of the world's
social activists throughout history. You Might get away with that answer in any given situation but not all of them throughout history!

Yes in every situation, like you said. that just means that the Bible does not manufacture fascists it manufactures social justice.

Within a Christian society they will use the Bible because people believe it.

Duh, that's what makes it relevant. What a game you are playing. do you really believe your ploy? It's just a classic double bind. If counts against me it doesn't count, if it doesn't count for you it counts for me.

Gays use the Bible. J.S. Mill used the Bible when arguing for Utilitarianism and gender equality.

And this is supposed to prove it's not relevant? Are you thinking that you want to find a source of totally unambiguous certain knowledge that tells us exactly what to think absolutely without any sense of uncertainty in every stiatuion?

You seem to think that if there are diverse views about a text that text is totally chaotic and has no communicative value? But that is so unpostmodern. Derridians would tell us all texts do that. Indeed we can reconstruct any text to that same extent.


Pacifists and war mongers use the Bible, as do abortion rights advocates and clinic bombers.

Stalin used Atheism, the communists were atheists, and business men and capitalists are atheists.

But just because people use the Bible does not mean they believe it.

above you say they do believe it, and that's why its' used for so many different things.

i quote "Within a Christian society they will use the Bible because people believe it."

(1)if nazis and warmongers are using it becasue its good propagand and they don't really believe it, that means the bible didn't produce their views, they are capitalizing on it.

(2) you can't read the journal of John Woolman or the works of any those groups and not see they were sincere in their beilefs.

(3) disengenious to try and dogmatically negate their sincerity when you don't know anything about them. are you student of the nineteenth century labor movement? Do you claim some kind of expertise in the study of Quakers, ranters, levelers, the pesant revolts or any of that stuff?

How about Nicaragua? Did you go there, did talk to the people about their faith? I did.

It must be dealt with in a Christian culture if you want to see change.

there are those who are under the impression that that would be a definition of relevance.

It actually has been an obstacle to change on so many fronts, and as such, it would be better if we didn't have to treat it with any special moral relevance in our debates.

you just contradicted yourself again. you just admitted it has spurred the search for social justice, even if you do impune their motives or using it. which in my view only shows your ignorance of those movements. But it really doesn't matter because that makes it relevant a prori.

You have no facts to back your opinion on any of this, it becomes more apparent that when you use the term "relevant" we should "I don't' like it." That's what we are really talking about, your matters of taste.


Liberation theology, for instance, did not need the Bible for its social agenda. It was largely Marxist in origin anyway. The Bible was mostly used in service of Marxist Socialism.

Now he's an expert on liberation theology!

what do you know about it? Did study it in seminary? O I'm sure it was covered in some class you were in, I specialized in it. I met actual liberation theologians working on the ground in Nicaragua. I met a priest who was asked to hide under the bed because the contras were coming, and he chose to take a gun. I talked to him about how he made that choice nd squared it with his faith. I met Jose Meges Bonino, the priest who took the gun in Nicaragua was a good friend of Gustavo Gutierrez, did you meet such people? I talked tohe Nicharaguan amassador to the United States about her specific faith. Did you?


I think the Bible hinders us from being totally human, and as such is irrelevant to the needs of human beings.

That is your opinion, it is a matter of taste. You don't like it, that's your view. You are entitled to it. It's not backed by any facts.

Joe, name me one important moral truth we humans first learned in the Bible, that we still value today, which has not been taught outside of Christian cultures, and which we do not recognize apart from the Bible.

(1) Jesus saves: Now I get to do the Karl Barth thing: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!

(2) why does it have to be unique to the bible?

(3) name me one important fact we find from atheism that we can't get somewhere else?

(4)we need all the sources we can get. The bible is a major source.

Now name me as many examples and commands as you can think of that are found in the Bible, which, because they are in the Bible, have caused great human and animal suffering.

when you prove to me that Stalin was not an atheist and was not motivated by atheism!

can't you see the illogical and silly nature of the game you are playing? Can't you see how totally illogical your argument is? I can find abuses of this text so the text is Bad. but there are numerous examples of the text being used to support and nurture good things, but they don't count. people are just using it because it's popular and believed. but that's why they abuse it and use it wrongly, but that really counts against it, but using it as a stimulus for social justice doesn't count at all. It only counts against it and never count for it, but people believe it in droves and that's why it's irrelevant.

totally chaotic and game playing world view! you must no concept of being consistent at all!

And name me as many examples and commands that you can think of that are not found in the Bible, which, if they were in the Bible, would keep those who believe the Bible from committing the above atrocities.

Love your neighbor as yourself

I think we'd be better off without the Bible, Joe, just like we'd be better off without the Koran.

Stalin was an atheist; we are better off without atheism.

Read about my legs

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Nature of Faith is Confussing in Moderity

A lot of people are confused about the nature o faith. Some think these are contradictions. A big soruce of misconception s a popular definition of faith as "believing thing without reasons." Take a comment, one I find typical, from a recent message board encounter:

Originally Posted by Atheist_Devil View Post (carm aug 31 2007
I completely disagree with you. As Dan Barker calls it, faith is the "Great Escape".

So here we see the atheist take on faith still casting it in pejorative terms. The atheists set up their straw man definition of faith in which it is defined as "believing things without a reason. OF this is a totally inadequate definition.

Where do we turn for an understanding of faith? The best place would be the Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology, which is the official defining source of theological concepts. Here we see the simplistic bromide "faith is believing things without reasons" just wont do.

Westminster defines faith in a complex way, the article is very long and the definition is long.

The only atual Biblical definition of faith (Heb 11) does not encapsulate all that the Bible says on the subject, but indicates its main features 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.'

some translations say "evidence of things not seen. Faith is not a wild abandonment of logic, it is like faithfulness, it is a commitment to an understanding or a realization one takes as truth, and that realization can be gleaned from many sources including revelation, logic, personal experience. All of these things can be good reasons.

Westminster demonstrates the commitment aspect of faith in the sense of faithfulness which is part of the definition it gives for faith.

It is a confident obedient trust in the reality, in the power and love of God known through his acts, and an awaiting of their future consummation. The bible contains a variety of emphasis within this overall view. The noun 'faith' is comparatively rare in the OT where, (eg Hab 2.5) It may indicate faithfulness or loyalty to God rather than a passive reliance. But dependence upon God as distinct from human powers was imortant for Isaiah (7.9, 30.1-5). While the OT so often sees faith concertized as obedient action (Duet 6.1) the note of trust also resounds especially in the psalms.

Not to lose the complexity in a simplistic short hand, but we can encapsulate the OT view of faith as "trust, faithfulness, obedience." We see that is not passage acceptance of truth claims without reasons. The definition says the trust is based upon "The power of God" and that is a reason, it may one atheists don't like but it is a darn good one. If one has experienced the power of God in one's life one need no better reason.

In the Synoptic Gospels those who respond to Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom and respond to his salvific powers, are commended for their faith (Mark 2.5, 5.3) Unbelief is a hardness of heart a refusal to accept the immediacy of God's saving power (Mark 6.1).

Atheists have a strong tendency to deny that belief is a choice. They seem to think that it is some conclusion one is compelled to by logic, or maybe by stupidity; although in the context of religious belief they say that faith is antithetical to reason. They are missing the boat, in this definition we see that Jesus expected us to make a commitment, that is the essence of faith (from the last preceding quote). The basic skeptical position is hardness of heart, refusal to accept immediacy of God's saving power.

The dictionary lists tensions with faith. Tension is a favorite concept among theologians. It means the pull exerted between two seemingly contradictory ideas which are both true and yet conflict in some way. Tension is not a real contradiction but often results form either misunderstanding wrong emphasis. Tensions with faith are:

The first on the list is faith vs works, which I will not go into here. The second is faith verses reason. That's the atheists cease upon as a contradiction but they are driven by the wrong understand ing of faith. The Catholics have always recognized that "reason was capable of demonstrating the existence of God." (Ibid) while Protestants tended to down play reason as the product of the fallen human mind. The source of the modern misunderstanding of faith is the result of historical accident. It comes from the skeptical crisis in early modern Europe. This is specifically the 1600s, after the religious wars, when the Protestants and Catholics squared off against each other to decide which was the true way, faith or reason. We need to take note of a couple important thing here:

(1) the Catholics did not say "boo faith we like reason." They said faith and reason are not enemies. Faith and reason work together.

(2) the Prots did not say "reason is no good don't ever reason" they said human understanding can't equal the truth of God, faith is required for salvation so faith is over reason.

(3) The Prots did something else interesting: they turned to empirical proof rather than logic as the exposition of reason. The Catholics like logic because they Aquinas and the logic of their God arguments. the Prots had God arguments too but they preferred their own empirical God arguments such as the design argument.

The Protestants also used a form of Scholasiticm that was more rigorous than the Catholics version (and purposely so, to counter the Catholic intellectual heritage) but this went by the way side when they place all their epistemic eggs in the science basket. As a result seventeenth century Protestantism was instrumental in the rise of modern science. On the Catholic side Descartes made his name writing philosophy which was in direct response to the Church's request that the enter the battle on their side and help defeat the intellectual claims of the protestants. that is what produced the meditations. That whole period is known as "the skeptical crsis of early modern Europe." It was a major problem and created vast social upheaval and led to the rise of modern science as a means of checking reality. A major part of the struggle was over which to accept, tradition and authority or empirical proof. Tradition and authority were the answer of the faith camp. One might be tempted to think that this was the answer of the faith only camp but not so. It was the reason camp (Catholics) who construed tradition and authority extensions of reason. It was the faith only camp (Protestants) who developed empirical experimental methods as an extension of faith. Although a Catholic invented range and domane (Descartes) and a Catholic invented statistical probability. All of these things came out of this era and had some tangential connection to the skeptical crisis.

My dialog partner continues:

When faith is invoked, you've admitted you've lost the rational argument and have retreated into the land of conjecture, speculation and maybe. Believers are not on the same intellectual plane.

This is because he misconstrues faith as "being stupid and beilef without reason." Kierkegaard called faith "irrational" but he did not mean by that blind stupidity crashing around and accepting stupid things. He meant an existential encounter, first hand face to face experience of truth. For him logic was hypothetical, only on the pages of books. He wanted engagement with God!

Faith is a free-for-all. If one faith claim is accepted, any other faith claim can be "true" as well. All it takes is "belief". How egalitarian! Everything is as good as everything else with no standard used to make these world views held to account. Ah, but there is a standard, isn't there. It's called results.

Of course the claim that I "admitted this" is nonsense, I don't' know what I said that made him assume this. But in anyway, he does the point, how can choose between conflicting tenets of faith? I really don't think this is a very tough one, although the answer may allude many people. The answer is bipolar:

two tensions

(1) On the one hand, there is the personal existential aspect of faith.

This is what people are seeing when they give that most annoying of answers: "it's truth for you." This is the kind of relativism that makes fundies cringe. But I have to admit I do my cringing too when I hear it, even though I think I have a handle on it.

This is not saying that truth very from one person to another, although some who use that phrase, I can't help but feel really think that. It means that since we don't understand truth exhaustively the existential commitment is what I recognize immediately as truth, even though ti's really just similitude. This is an aspect of my understanding that is standing in for truth since our understanding of truth is limited. It's personal commitment, that is it my on self defining moment that clarifies for me what I'm willing to faithful to as a sense of ideal and idea.

It's a way of saying "I am willing to keep my commitments, as long as I understand truth this way I will treat this as truth." This is the nature of the case an needs must be, because your understanding of God is pathetic. We can't possibly stack up to the reality of God, it's too overwhelming. Everything we know of God has to be metaphor because we just handle the way God really is. It's beyond words and thus beyond anything we know.

(2) the use of logic.

On the other hand, at the other end of the pole is the use of logic to understand. We can sort our competing truth claims by the use of logic. The atheist bromide that faith is anti ethical to logic is simply wrong. Logic is the standard we can use to sort out competing truth claims, even if they are the result of this other pole of personal existential commitment to perceived truth. How can these two co-exist without contradicting? Logic is also a personal commitment. It is an objective truth finding mechanism but we are not objective creatures. We cannot be objective. Objective truth exists "out there" but we just can't understand it exhaustively. For this reason we must hold our logical conclusions as personal existential commitments so we don't' impose them harshly upon others, but we can live by them ourselves.

Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology
. ed., Alan Richardson and John Bowden, Great Briton:Westminster Press, 1983.207

Read about my legs

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Derrida/TS part 2

Derrida sought to destroy metaphysical hierarchy. How did he intend to do that? He did it by creating a method of reading a text, a critical tool that would allow him to dissect and destroy any hierarchy simply because it was a hierarchy. That tool was known as "deconstruction." To reconstruct one takes apart, in the sense of destroy; destruction = destruction.

Hierarchy is based upon the binary opposition. That means hierarchies are like stacks of couplets, each contianing a major term and suppolamental term:




the assumption is that the term on top is the "major term" the "real" thing, the one on the bottom is tacked on or er zots, or somehow inferior. A hierarchical metaphysics is constructed out of these binaries. These are among the categories we use to order our perception of sense data; and thus to order the world. We can see this in the atheist metaphysics of scientism:



Derrida inverts the couplets. The "inferior term" is taken as the superior term, and the assumption is made that the hierarchy is false. But what move allows this? He accomplishes this move by the realization of the principle of "differance." This is not my dyslexia at work. He spells it with an "a" in order to out over the point that there is more to it than just "difference" as we understand it. That is, difference is the basis of meaning in language. Meaning of signifier is based upon the difference in one signifier and another. That means we call a "tree" a "tree" not because it is intrinsically endowed with treeness, but because we don't call it a "frog," a "bat" or an "elephant." The meaning of these terms, what they refer to, is totally arbitrary. Thus meaning arises through difference. Derrida uses this point as the staging ground for a multiple assault on all of Western thought. He derives from it the notion that meaning derives from absence (difference is absence) rather than presence. So Plato is screwed, the Platonic theory is crap. This is so because the meaning of truth in Platonic terms is presence, the proximity to the forms, remember? So the presence of the forms in our thinking is our nearness to truth. The closer the ware to what we recall of the forms the closer we are to truth. He sets up a hierarchy of presence in which speaking is closer to truth than writing.

Derrida destroys this hierarchy of presence by demonstrating that derives from absence (difference = absence because there is no presence of meaning in the signifier). He finds that meaning is never present. Meaning is always absent and sought after, always different and differed. He makes a pun on differ and deffer. Meaning is differed in that language has multiple meanings (why he likes puns) and one can never be sure that the meaning of a statement is always off stage waiting to come on, and when it does it only refers to another meaning. Life a child who always asks "why" the answer is never available, it's always in the next question, and the next, and the next. It's flickering away always. He uses the phase "always already," meaning is already absent.

Deconstruction works by finding a contradiction in the thesis and using that to flip over all the meanings. The classic Derridian example is the distinction in Rousseau between nature and nurture, the natural and civilized. Rousseau says that we can have natural morality we can be naturally good and naturally happy by being spontaneous and rooted in nature. He also says, however, that civilization is good because it nurtures us and gives us a basis in education and understanding. This is an inherent contradiction and Derrida exploits it to show that all of Rousseau's ideas are meaningless. In fact he shows that all meaning is meaningless. Everything falls apart, there is no grand edifice of truth that can stand before the onslaught of deconstruction. If one takes deconstruction seriously one must, to be totally consistent, just wind up sitting in a corner and never speaking and never assuming anything.

I ended part 1 with his statement that logic cannot be secured by logical argument He undermines logic and reason in this way and reduces them to ashes. Thus the final step in deconstruction is to show that there is no meaning, there is no truth all lies in ruin. His main objective is to destroy the Transendetal signifier because that is the essence of Platonic meaning,t he big idea at the top of the hierarchy that secures meaning and makes sense of all other marks that make sense of the world.He is quite aware that the TS equals God, he says so himself. This is his ultimate triumph over Christianity. It's a supreme moment for atheism, but of course the American scientifically obsessed, philosophically challenged atheists could never appreciates it. Once you come to truly understand Derrida and your faith survives it, nothing in the nature of an intellectual argument can ever threaten your faith again.

How does one survive it? One of the major pastimes in graduate school for student just encountering Derrida is to sit around trying to deconstruct Derrida. Everyone does this and everyone thinks he's the first person to think of it. You can just tell when student's understanding is reaching critical mass and she/he is about to say "Hey, let's deconstruct him!" Derrida knew this, and he traded in it. Its' one of the features that assured that people wanted to study him more. But it doesn't matter if you deconstruct him because it only proves his point. Since he says there is no truth there is no ultimate reality there is no meaning, ti doesn't matter if what he says is untrue and not meaningful. Except for one thing: you don't have to make the final step. If you are to reverse Derrida then you don't want to prove that he has no ultimate meaning, you want to prove that he does have meaning and he's just wrong. This is can be done by using his method, but not using the final step. Don't conclusion there's no meaning, just show that his meaning is wrong.

Derrdia follows Heidegger in almost everything. Almost every step he makes can be seen in Heidegger's Parmenides book. Both thinkers say that metaphysics is undeniable. Derrida wants to explicate the end of metaphysics, but he also says there is no hope of escaping metaphysics. Even language itself is metaphysical. We cannot help but do metaphysics. That means metaphysical hierarchies are inescapable which means the TS is inescapable. Thus the choice we have is to assume there is a TS or to fall silent and never speak, never try to think coherently.But we cannot live with that choice. Because we have to assume it, we can't live without it, we should assume there is a Transendental signifier, and as Derrida points out, that's just a truncated version of God.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

join my yahoo group: Doxa Discussion

My Message boards have been closed. But I have opened a Doxa discussion news group on yahoo groups:

Please come I need people and I would like a good group:

Doxa Discussion

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Derridian Backgrond ot the TS Argument: Part 1

Jasque Derrida about mid life

This is a summary of Derrida on the Transcendental Signifier and why it "proves" the existence of God (in my special sense of "proof" that I use as "for practical purposes").

Derrida was from French North Africa, 1930-2004. here are two articles on him that will give you a basic run down:

Derrida on Wiki

Derrida in Philosophical Encyclopedia

Derrida was a student of Martin Heidegger. Derrida is the best known philosopher of recent times. Heidegger was an existentialist, then dropped that and began to call himself a "phenomenologist." Everything Derrida says came from Heidegger. Every move of decontracution is found in Heidegger, but Derrida put it together in a different package than Heidegger's.

"Deconstruction" was Derrida's babby. He invented it although one can find it's roots all over Western letters. He's plugging in elements from Heidegger, Sartre, Brintano, Nicholas of Cuza, Charles Sanders Pierce and all over the place.This is the run down on [B][I]Deconstruction.[/I][/B] I was taught Derrida by someone who had been his student in Paris in the late 60s before he moved to Yale.

Phenomenology is an attempt to place the observer at the center of awareness to allow sense data to be understood in ways that are not predetermined by preconceived categories. The idea is that the data will form its own categories. Attempts to gather sense data and heard it all into pre selected categories biases reality. In vernacular one might say "don't pigeon hole but remain open to possibilities for everything no matter how familiar or or obvious we think it might be. This attempt to pre select categories of knowledge is what Heidegger calls "Metaphysics." In this sense even science is metaphysics!

Derrida wants to explicate the end of western metaphysics,(his phrase). What does this mean? It means he, and most postmoderns, believe that the paths along which western metaphics have led us are dead ends. We have run out of metaphysics. We haven't run out of science, in the sense that there plenty of facts to look at, but in a way we have because reductionism has lowered our expectations about what we will find. But Derrida's beef is not with science. A Major segment of of postmodernists tried to attack modern science, but they were swept aside with the Alan Sokal stuff. Derrida was never one of them.

Derrida argues that Western metaphysics has always been predicated upon an organizing principal that orders reality and organizes sense data. William James Sums it up well in his Gilford Lectures:

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."

Derrida begins with Plato's theory of knowledge, this is the basis of Western metaphysics. Plato says that prior to birth we are in contact with the forms, thus knowledge is a matter of remembering, no learning for the first time. But then the question arises is speech closer to what we remember, or is writing? Socrates says the spoken word is closer to the ideas inside us, the memory of the forms, thus spoken word is better (more true, closer to reality) than written word. As he puts it "a writer dies his written words are like orphans since he is not there to defend them." This supremacy of the spoken word sets up a hierarchy of meaning and importance in western culture. We have come to value reason as the organizing principle of truth, as the "natural light" because it's an extension of the concept of this true Platonic knowledge. Reason becomes this overarching truth regime (Faucault's word) that organizes all reality. Everything is paired up into hierarchies, little hierarchies that fit into the big over all hierarchy, these are called "binary opossitions." They they take the form of couplets, consisting of the "true" or "correct" term and it's supplement; the false term or the unimportant addition to the "real thing." Examples are: up/down, black/white/ true/false/ male/female. Reason is construed as male and this resutls in "phalologocentrism."

Derrida's goal is to destroy hierarchies, to show that there is no truth, there is no meaning. We can't know anything. Derridian postmodernism is like archaeologists who try to piece together fragments of a broken vase. Some say "there is a vase here, we just have to fin out how the peices fit." Another says "there may be two vases." The postmodernist says "we don't have all the pieces, they may not have been a vase, it may be 16 vases, we can't know, there is no final answer, it's always going to be a jumble. The Deridian position is a good philosophical justification for nihilism. The difference being a nihilism takes too much effort.. The logical conclusion of Derridianism if one were consist would be to sit in a chair and say nothing until one starves to death. Of course Derrida himself was not consistent. He was one of the most prolific writers. His overall project was to tear down hierarchy and destroy the concept of the TS. Here is his argument against reason:

He asks "does reason ground itself?" Can we use reason to prove reason?

"Are we obeying the principle of reason when we ask what grounds this principle [reason] which is itself a principle of grounding? We are not--which does not mean that we are disobeying it either. Are we dealing here with a circle or with an abyss? The circle would consist in seeking to account for reason by reason, to reason to the principle of reason, appealing to the principle to make it speak of itself at the very point where, according to Heidegger, the prinicple of reason says nothing about reason itself. The abyss, the hole, ..., the empty gorge would be the impossibility for a principle of grounding to ground itself...Are we to use reason to account for the principle of reason? Is the reason for reason rational?"(Derrida in Criticism and Culture, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schlefflier, Longman 1991, 20.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

attention: about my boards, Sense of the Numinous

They have been put on Yuku by EZB,. all EZB boards will be consigned to the purgatory of Yuku soon. I hate Yuku and it will not accept my password. I cannot get on. I am fed up with EZB and so I will scrape my boards and strat a Yhoo eamil group. I will set that up so look for it on this blog or on DoXA soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Atheist Thoguht Poilce: Response to Hector Avalos


Hector Avalos' The Ideology of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Demise of an Academic Profession Published on the Society of Biblical Literature forum has set off a firestorm of controversy in the Blioblogsphere.It seems that Avalos believes that Biblical scholarship is a waste of time funded by those who give their money to things they don't understand, and pursued by a privileged elite. Avalos seems to think that Biblical scholars are playing the Glass Bead Game. While his arguments are sound and his criticisms acute in many respects, the author is trendy and chic in his post-leftist identity political self loathing of the intellect and properly postmodern in his denunciation of thought. He declares the greatest writer in the English Languate to be of no intrisic value, but Shakespeare is still worth reading because he enables one to get on with the ruling class and to make connections.

Shakespeare's works, for example, have no intrinsic value, but they function as cultural capital insofar as "knowing Shakespeare" helps provide entry into elite educated society. The academic study of literature, in general, functions to maintain class distinctions rather than to help humanity in any practical manner.

I certainly wouldn't want to impune his expertise in this area. I'm sure he knows a great deal about getting on with and sucking up to powerful people. He seems to be pretty aware of the fact that people in his position are useless and elitist and privileged. I would like to congratulate him on being the first academic to voluntarily quite his job. I think we can follow with interest as brother Avalos joins the peace corps so he can do something useful. There is just one problem with his proposal that Biblical studies be abandoned; he's not really part of the faith. I think he would admit that. He teaches at a secular program and most people in religious studies are dead set on destroying religion. The problem is, we aren't ready to give it up. Those of us who know God exists, who value the Bible, think it's our book and we want to study it. I think most of us want our churches to fund those who do. It's actually none of his business and as he is not a believer and is an enemy of faith it not his place to make such a proposal to begin with.

I say that not as a raving right winger who thinks scholars should be believers and has never heard of objectivity. I say it as a graduate of a major liberal seminary, the student of some of the most liberal theologians in the United States. I am not not shocked by anything he says, but I am mortified by his anti-intellectual attitude. Contempt is not objectivity. Avalos is not objective, he is subjective because hate is subjective. He hates religion, he is passionate about hating Christianity. Passion is not scholarly caution.

I would accuse him of benig anti-intellectual except that all postmodern academics pretend to hate the world of letters and to find no value in what they do. I have yet to meet one that has given up his/her job voluntarily. Just jobs are extremely hard to come by and he should be thanking God for his. But Those of us who actually have faith are going to keep studying the Bible because we like it. We find that it has a lot of value, as does Shakespeare.

Avelos puts it this way:

Similarly, the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit. Its value is a social construct, and the SBL is the agent of an elite class that wishes to retain its own value and employment by fostering the idea that biblical studies should matter.

The idea that the Bible should be studied because of its influence or because "it does matter" overlooks repeated statements, by scholars themselves, that the Bible's influence and relevance might cease if it were not for the intervention of biblical scholars and translators. Since the intervention, successful or not, is selectively applied to the Bible (rather than to thousands of other non-biblical texts of ancient cultures), such an intervention becomes an ethnocentric and religiocentric mechanism by which biblical scholars preserve their own relevance.

Of course he's taking those quotes out of context (note he doesn't actually provide any). Many great scholars have said this sort of thing, I don't know of any who meant it they way Avalos takes it. It's more likely they mean it n the sense that the average person can't go study Greek for several years and go to monasteries and find the ms to argue about the synoptic problem and so on. He tries to have it it both ways in slipping in his identity politcal credentials as well as his Biblical Scholarship credentials:

n the interest of self-disclosure, I should say that I am a secular humanist and a Mexican immigrant. So, in some ways I am on the margins of the marginalized in the Society of Biblical Literature. Despite growing up in a relatively poor background, I cannot deny that I am now part of a privileged and elite educated class. I have experienced real poverty, and this is not it. I get paid to do what I love, though my conscience is increasingly telling me to do something more beneficial for humanity.

Yes in the interest of self disclosure. Nothing is more chic and gives more cultural capital than being marginalized. Of course he's still in the elite after all. But he's a marginalized elitist, a true postmodern dream. Now in the interest of self discourse let me say a bit about myself. I am a middle class gringo. But I was a communist. I worked for years in the Central America movement, went to Nicaragua and was spied upon by the FBI as part of Dallas CISPES. I'm still pretty much of th left. So nothing I say should be understood as right wing or fundamentalist. That being said, I do not wish to get into a "lefter than thou" discussion with Dr. Avalos. Let me move back in to the essay.

But now that he's primed the pump properly by waving his credentials about before he speaks, he gets down to business:

The alien and irrelevant nature of biblical worldviews is admitted by many academic scholars. James Barr notes, for example, that "the main impact of historical criticism, as felt by the earlier twentieth century, has been to emphasize the strangeness of the biblical world, its distance from the world of modern rationality."[1] Likewise, the literary critic Lynn M. Poland, in evaluating the work of Rudolf Bultmann, observed, "Bultmann astutely perceived the central issues with which a specifically modern program for biblical interpretation must wrestle: the alien character of the world views represented in the biblical writings for twentieth-century readers."[2]

Now somehow this alien nature of the ancient world view worries Dr. Avalos; and it seems odd to me. All the professors I had in graduate school seemed to enjoy learning though they understood that the average person didn't understand 90% of what they had to say. It was still worth learning even though it was "strange." I don't understand, except that I do understand, why is this scholar is afraid of learning? To fear strange ideas is to fear learning, I think. The Philosophy of Dr. Avalos the scholar seems oddly anti-intellectual. Except that this is what the fashionable postmodern identity politics quasi liberal is into now days. Of course since he quotes Barr one would expect Barr would also be anti-intellectual. Of course the quote Avalos uses doesn't say the Bible is rubbish let's forget it. It says it is strange to modern people. But then why is he studying it? Rather than writings books about the Bible because he wants to forget it, I rather think it's because he wants to teach it. Thus one mist assume this statement is actually saying, "yes the Biblical world view is strange to us, but its worth learning and thus that's why we need professors like me to teach it." This is very typical of identity politics, if the masses can't understand it in the fields and factories without having to actually learn something, it can't be depicted in a mural, then destroy it and and lead a strike instead. Of course most actual labor action is beyond these post new left types. This is just climate of opinion in what is left of post modernism after Derrida. So Derridian to see no value in Shakespeare. No better proof Post modernists don't know anything about literature.

Now comes the bit about how terrible the Bible is. Notice the postmodern politically correct identity politics buzzers and buttons:

And one need not go far to see how different biblical world views are from modern ones. Biblical authors, usually elite male scribes, believed that the world was formed and ruled by a god who is otherwise barely recognized in contemporary texts outside of ancient Israel. Genocide was sometimes endorsed, commanded, or tolerated. Slavery was often endorsed or tolerated. Patriarchalism was pervasive. At least some same-sex activity was persecuted. Illness was often attributed to supernatural causation, and illness could be used to devalue human beings. The idea that the Bible bears "higher" ethical or religious lessons to teach us, as compared to those found in the texts of other ancient cultures, is part of an ethnocentric and religiocentric mythos. Given such admitted irrelevance and "otherness" of the Bible, the main sub-disciplines (e.g., archaeology, literary criticism, textual criticism, translation) and hermeneutic approaches (e.g., "reappropriation," "recontextualization") of biblical studies are simply mechanisms by which the relevance and value of the Bible and biblical scholars are maintained.

A lot goes on here in this paragraph. Let's try to capture it all.

(1) He's laid out a manifesto of his values and demonstrated that the Bible violates them.

So the Bible doesn't reflect his values, therefore its' worthless. But why would anyone think that a modern person seeking social justice, or even a decent set of moral values, would not want to understand where humanity has been? How can the fact that the Bible is an incredible record of the history of ancient near east, the struggles of people, the drama of human tragedy, how can this escape the son of the soil, the marginalized elitist scholar of the people?

(2) The Bible is elitist and patriarchal and it's opposed to gayness.

in other words its opposed to all of his political ideologies, and right or wrong, better or worse, Avalos would not have the credentials he has if he did not also benefit form some of these things. Then why does he not call for the banning of Universities? If we should walk away and forget the Bible because it's from a by gone era, then why not do away with all earning, books themselves. Books are filled outmoded ideas, and someday all books available now will be part of a strange and outmoded way of thinking. why don't we forget the whole education thing and become illiterate? It would be a lot easier than actually to teach people about the ancient world. Avalos is contributing to Marcue's one-dimenstional man, by helping to close the realm of discourse to prevent any unsactioned ideas from beyond the realm of neo-facism disguised as political correctness.

(3) typical game of the postmoderns. The played it at Perkins all the time. You are discussing something and you mention a work the other person hasn't read. Instead of assuming "O I am not as well read because I didn't know about that" they say "you are excluding me by saying things I don't know about." So if you have knowledge they don't have you are wrong, you are violating a rule, you are to be shunned and you are putting them ill at ease. Thus one is penalized for knowledge and taught not to learn and not to excel. Unless of course a feminist does it. they mention texts no one has heard of of and that makes them bright girls who are on top of everything because they are so superior to males. This is the same game. Denude the church of what little knowledge it has. "hey you don't' wont learn all that boring stuff. wouldn't you really father work in a factory and go dancing?" So this way the postmoderns take control of the sources of knowledge and any other sort of knowledge is anathema. this is what Avalos is trying to do with biblical scholarship. It's bad it's evil it's ancient it has all kinds of outmoded values. But aren't there some other texts with those same values from those same milieu that he wants read? Let's look further.

At this point he begins to move into some actual criticisms of biblical scholarship:

(e.g., archaeology, literary criticism, textual criticism, translation) and hermeneutic approaches (e.g., "reappropriation," "recontextualization") of biblical studies are simply mechanisms by which the relevance and value of the Bible and biblical scholars are maintained.

Scholarship is just a means for the elite to promote their world view. But wait, he just got through promoting his values by decrying the values the disvalues in the Bible. He's a scholar so he's doing the thing he criticizes scholars for, and he's also using those same scholars to decry the outmoded nature of the Biblical world view.

Most findings, few of which are truly novel, remain locked up in journals and books most people will never read or understand. Most findings, few of which are truly novel, remain locked up in journals and books

Lack of a God forbid that people should ever have learn about anything they don't know about. that's not what education is for is it? Universities are there to destroy learning right? Most people will never understand brain surgery should we do away with rain surgery? Most people will never understand higher math,should we just forget higher math. I'm sure that Avalos will defend these reductionist hobbies on the grounds that they are useful. Only useful things can be allowed. Despite their useful nature, such esoteric pursuits will always be beyond the realm of the average peasant in the third world. We don't really need a space race if we the corps don't' fail. Why bother with learning at all? Of course those who actually enjoy learning know that there's more to it than just the intimidate utility of a text. this is what is strange to me, a professor who cant' understand the values of learning about the past.

Whatever new knowledge is applied (e.g., new readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls), it is usually for the benefit of faith communities who read the Bible. The fact is that biblical studies is still functioning as a handmaiden to theology and faith communities rather than as a discipline relevant to those outside of faith communities (something unlike law, medicine, or even philosophy, which is also being marginalized). Let us not forget he's actually begging the question to assert that the Bible endorses slavery an genocide. We might also bring up the fact that he has not discussed the canon. He asserts that Scholars make the canon. ON this point I think the professor needs to do some reading because it bishops who made the Christian canon. He has not actually discussed this. We cannot discuss the attitudes of God in the OT until we talk about the nature of OT authority and the nature of the canon. But Avalos chooses not to get into anything specific in this essay.

In archaeology, new inscriptions, even the most fragmentary and the barely comprehensible, are announced with great fanfare when there is a remote connection to the Bible. Meanwhile, thousands of more complete texts of other cultures still lie untranslated. Euroamerican perceptions of what is important still dominate the entire Society, as witnessed by repeated full attendance at sessions on archaeological "artifacts" versus sparser attendance in sessions on more "humane" aspects of biblical studies, such as disability studies or non-Euroamerican understandings of scriptures.

Here he has a splendid point. but there's one problem. It's opposed to the values he just stated. To study these forgotten, strange, unknown texts, which the average West Texas farmer or the average peasant int he third world would know noting about, is a complete back peddle on everything he just said. Is the Bible the only ancient world document with a strange view? He has a good point about neglected aspect of the field and they will certainly stay neglected if we follow his way of thinking. He has a strange way of getting people to care more about neglected "marginalized" aspects of the Bible, by forgetting about it and not studying it.

He drags gender inclusion translations through the mud as hidden mechanisms of patriarchy. He identifies the existence of such translations as proof of the Bible's backward nature. This is something that really confused me at Perkins. All these Feminist theologians such as Joette Basler and Danna Fellwell who were opposed to Egalitarian scholarship. They didn't even know about the major figures in the egal movement (such as Bushnell and Gilbert Bilezikian) but they pooh poohed every egalitarian translation I brought up. Why? Because they have a vested interest in showing that the Bible is backward and evil. They hate the bible they hate religion they don't want to give it a break. They have no interest in really translating the work. Of course I'm sure Dr. Avalos would not stop to this kind of manipulation after accusing his opponents in the other camp of being that way. That's why he's lobbying against the Bible since it speaks against this value system. Apparently that's how he knows so well the scholarly games of manipulation, because he plays them so much.

Now we don't see that kind of manipulation on Avalos' part in his appraoch to Robert Alter's attempts to make the Bible relevant:

Robert Alter, as he attempts to reconcile his personal enjoyment of biblical artistry with some serious purpose: "but the paradoxical truth of the matter may well be that by learning to enjoy biblical stories more fully as stories, we shall also come to see more clearly what they mean to tell us about God, man and the perilously momentous realm of history."[5]

This is no this is not the kind of manipulation he speaks of above, this is a different kind.

Alter's judgment is a subjective one, and we can just as easily argue that the Bible is no more beautiful nor has any better lessons to teach than many other texts. One could just as easily make the subjective judgment that at least some biblical texts are ugly, not to mention horrifically unethical, but we don't have many books touting that. That would be bad for business. Here he is castigating this believer for enjoying the text, as though this some sort of anathema. No other ancient world text was barbaric. The Greeks never oppressed anyone or valued slavery did they? Only the Jews. The enjoyment is subjective that's his argument. It's only subjective. One might think that enjoyment would be a valid reason to read a text, but not in the Spartan world of Dr. Avalos. Now of course he plugs the reading of other ancient world books, which I am willing to bet my pay are not accepted by the masses, not known to the public and just as "strange" and ancient in their view point but somehow we are supposed to accept hem as valid candidates to survive and be studied but not the Bible. I'm sure those other guys had slaves, killed people, did all the things Don Avalos hates in the Bible, but somehow its ok in the other books. I would hate a world in which only science and engineering books were allowed. But even that would at least be consistent.

Then he rounds out his essay by accusing the early SBL founders of being religious. What a shame that the major organization in America that deals with Bible study is flavored with a large element of religion! While I agree that Bible scholars are often too ideologically motivated, that many of the major reference works ar shamelessly doctrinally biased, and that there is not enough objectivity, Avalos in this article offers us nothing in the way of objectivity. His arguments have been extremely ideolgoical and subjective. What would have been helpful would have been if he had dealt with the progress made. Had he talked about things that actually benchmark our current understanding of the ancient world view, that would have actually contributed something to learning. But he did not and perhaps its just as well. I'm sure that he will be getting out of the field soon, since it is such a waste of time. We will all miss this keen analytical mind and all those insights he's giving us.